India Not Able To Fully Abandon Russia

modi and putin

One development which surely has skipped its ‘deserving-importance’  and which could not evoke the due coverage , despite the on-going clashes and conflict hotting-up  between India and China, the latest again on August 31, 2020, in Pangong Tso Lake 1 , has however  come as a surprise,  as that India has pulled out of the Kavkaz military exercises to be organised in the month of September in Russia.  ‘India was invited by Russia to participate in the tri-services exercise with a contingent of around 200 personnel to southern Russia in September for the multi-lateral Kavkaz-2020. The exercise is being held in the Astrakhan province of Southern Russia where member countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Central Asian countries would be participating’ 2 . The obvious choice which had been left for India was to walk-out as both China and Pakistan are to be a part of this multinational exercise and both the nations are locked-up with India over claims of boundaries inside India.  Interestingly, this announcement came on August 28, 2020 three days before the Pangong Tso crisis and officially India has cited COVID-19 pandemic for the pull-out.  But, ‘a high-level meeting was held in South Block in which External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat were present. After the meeting, it was discussed that it would not be right to take part in the multilateral exercise where Chinese and Pakistani military personnel would also be present,’ defence sources informed’ 3 . Though Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh is to visit Russia on September 4-5, 2020 for the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

India, was made to walk-out of compulsion as it upstaged a Russian invitation which India had been friendly-with from the past five-decades and there is no doubt that India is overwhelmingly dependent on Russian expertise.  ‘A new Stimson Center working paper by Sameer Lalwani and others shows that 86% of the equipment, weapons and platforms currently in military service in India is of Russian origin. For the Navy, it is more than 41% while two-thirds of the IAF’s equipment is of Russian origin. The figure for the Army is a whopping 90%, by assigning country of origin to around 10,000 pieces of military hardware’, said a report published in The Indian Express on July 22, 2020 4.  India’s decision might have been painstakingly taken, solely for the reason,  that in the last decade China has tried hard to cement the Russia-Pakistan ties. ‘After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Moscow-Islamabad relations remained stable and mutually cautious until 2010. But from then on, relations began to change, leading to the lifting of a Russian arms embargo on Pakistan in 2014, and their first joint military exercise was held in 2016’, said an article published in The Asia Times on June 22, 2020 5. Plus, there is an uncanny understanding between Russia and China that any attack on any of them would be considered an attack on both.  With India embroiled with China is it impossible for India to share a platform with China on an invitation from Russia?  These Kavkaz 2020 military exercises will be taking place between 15-26 September at Donguz training ranges in Russia’s Orenburg. China, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Belarus, Turkey, Armenia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are set to take part in it. 6

China, in its effort wants Pakistan to replace India as an importer of Russian weaponry, and at the same time, wants to propel Turkey to lead the Islamic bloc by replacing Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE etc.  It is already engaged with Russia transacting in-between each other in their local currencies and not in US Dollar or in digital Yuan in order to bring down the all influential dollar in international market.  A report published in Bloomberg  on August 12, 2020 highlights that ‘Russia ditches the Dollar for bulk of its exports to China’  7  in order to de-dollarise its economy.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, China was already on a gold buying spree as ‘Since 2009, China has withdrawn 12,000 tonnes of gold from the rest of the world’ 8, and now, with the world economy in shambles in 2020, the asset of gold seem to be the only panacea, and may be a new currency will sprout after the pandemic ends.

It was also becoming more than obvious for India that Russia was not inclined to arbitrate between India and China as a report published in The Hindu on June 10, 2020 clearly informs that ‘Russia wont interfere in Indo-China tensions’ 9  and of a very particular interest is of a viewpoint of BJP lawmaker Subramanian Swamy who had openly aired his views that India need not buy Russian S-400. ‘The Namo government would be well advised not to use S400 in a possible battle with China. This is because S400 is made with Chinese electronics. Russia is today a junior partner of China’ he said in his tweet published in The Week on June 13, 2020 10.  Will the government still go ahead with Russian S-400, despite its lawmaker’s advice and also when US president Donald Trump has offered F-35 in place of it, provided India scraps the S-400 deal 11 is for the time to tell, but one aspect which has come to light is  that India has definitely shown iron-teeth refusing to play in Russian playground, and surely this policy shift is worthy to ponder, solely because India has groomed sides with Israel and of course US.

Israel, in the last couple of years, has stood by India with every possible support. Israel (read US) considers India as a counter-weight to China as well as to Pakistan, which has stood as a barrier into recognising it as a state. Israel, in its affinity for India, has in fact refused to sell Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) to China and has wished to push for its billion dollar deal with India, informs a report published in Eurasia Times, on August 30, 2020.  With an aggressive China overlooking on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, India’s latest acquisition are two more Phalcon’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft from Israel. On one hand, while the push from Israel expediated the long-stalled deal to sell AWACS to India, it had earlier refused to sell the system to China.  The three  AWACS given to India (are) is monitoring the airspace of Pakistan and they can see the land of Islamabad and Rawalpindi at this time. “Under these circumstances, it can be estimated where the next two AWACs will be deployed. Two decades ago, the US pressured Israel to scrap the AWACS deal because the spy plane would give China a strategic advantage over America’s AWACS aircraft in any conflict over Taiwan. This acted as a major dent in Israel-China ties’ 12.

Despite, India emerging out of Russian shadows, and everything after aligning US in South China Sea, yet there are reports that India has not totally abandoned Russia and it intends to participate in Naval exercises with Russia in the first week of September 2020 13.  This is because India still believes that Russia would help in circumstances with China, as it was only Russia which played a key-role into getting the Indian soldiers back to India, after the clashes with China on June 15, 202014. Something which did not get adequate media-glare in India.

The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner.  He writes on international politics.


















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